Get the look of pricey patterned tiles at a fraction of the cost. Learn the tricks to a long-lasting finish with this tutorial on how to paint and stencil tile floors.
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Encaustic tiles come in all sorts of bold patterns and high-contrast color combinations, but installing them often comes at a steep price. Retiling a floor is generally a costly update, and many of these intricate designs cost several dollars more per square foot than basic ceramic or porcelain options. But if you love the graphic effect of patterned tiles, there's another way to get the look at a fraction of the cost.

With a stencil and some paint, you can add a striking pattern to your outdated tile and mimic the look of pricey encaustic or cement tiles. This project works best with square glazed ceramic or porcelain tiles, and proper prep work is key to a long-lasting finish. Follow these steps on how to paint and stencil tile floors for a bold new look in your kitchen, bathroom, or entryway.

Kitchen with black and white floors and wooden dining table
Credit: Annie Schlecther

How to Paint and Stencil Tile Floors

Be sure to read through these instructions carefully before you begin painting tile floors. Skipping a step could result in paint that peels, chips, or does not adhere properly to the tile.

What You Need

  • Vacuum or broom
  • Grease-cutting cleaner
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Painters tape
  • Bonding primer
  • Chalk-finish paint or flat-sheen paint in at least two colors
  • Small paintbrush
  • Foam roller
  • Stencil
  • Low-tack adhesive (optional)
  • Stencil brush
  • Water-base clear coat

Step 1: Clean the tile.

The tile should be completely clean and free of debris before you begin painting. Start by vacuuming or sweeping the floor to remove any loose dirt or dust. Then thoroughly scrub the floor with a grease-cutting cleaner such as Krud Kutter ($7, The Home Depot). Be sure to work the cleaner into the corners and grout lines, and wipe away grime with a cleaning cloth. Go over the floors again with a damp cloth to catch any remaining debris or residue. Let the floors dry, then use painters tape to mask off all baseboards and other areas where you don't want paint.

Black and white floors with cans of paint
Credit: Annie Schlecther

Step 2: Prime the tile.

Chalk-finish paint generally doesn't require priming beforehand, but it's a good idea when painting floor tile to ensure good adhesion and a durable finish. For any other type of paint, such as acrylic or latex, applying primer is an essential step. Prime your tile with a bonding primer, such as KILZ Adhesion White Bonding Interior/Exterior Primer ($43, The Home Depot). Use a small paintbrush to apply primer around the edges and grout lines, then switch to a foam roller for the larger areas. Allow the primer to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. If needed, apply a second coat of primer and let dry.

Step 3: Paint your base color.

Similar to how you applied the primer, use a small paintbrush and foam roller to paint the entire tiled surface in your base color. Note that flat-sheen paint works best to replicate the look of unglazed encaustic or cement tile. Let dry and apply a second coat if needed. Ensure the color is completely solid with no lighter spots showing through. Wait at least 24 hours to allow the paint to fully dry and set before stenciling.

Step 4: Stencil your pattern.

Choose a stencil that matches the dimensions of your tile (a 12x12-inch stencil works best with 12-inch square tiles, for example). Place the stencil in the center of one tile and secure the edges with painters tape. You can also spray the back of the stencil with a low-tack adhesive ($9, Michaels) and let it dry before positioning it on each tile.

Load a foam roller or stencil brush with a small amount of your second paint color. To prevent paint from bleeding through the stencil, dab off excess paint before each stroke. Fill in all exposed areas with paint, using a smaller stencil brush as needed for more intricate designs or hard-to-reach areas. If desired, use a third color to highlight specific areas of the pattern. Leave the stencil in place and let the paint dry. If your base color is still showing through after one coat, paint over the stencil again and let dry.

Black and white floors with cans of paint
Credit: Annie Schlecther

Step 5: Continue stenciling across the floor.

If your stencil overlaps adjoining tiles, let each painted tile dry completely before moving on to the next one, or stagger the stencils to avoid messing up the fresh paint on the previous tile. To work around edges or fixtures like toilets and sinks, match up the corners of the stencil and tile and secure with painters tape where possible. Use your free hand to bend the stencil and press it into the edge or corner as you fill in the design. For any areas where the stencil can't fit, use a small paintbrush to continue the pattern free-hand.

Step 6: Touch up and seal.

Use a small paintbrush to touch up any spots where the paint dripped or bled through the stencil. Once your design is finished and completely dry, use a foam brush or roller to apply a water-base clear coat for protection. Let dry for at least two hours before applying a second coat. Allow to dry overnight and remove all painters tape.

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